“You are inattentive, boy,” Gershom said one winter morning.
Mikhail had mishandled a ledger and it was not the first time.
He could not help it.
“Have you another occupation to which you would rather see to?”
“No, sir,” Mikhail replied.
He day-dreamed constantly. As he grew, he cultivated for himself a world where he thrived. He would think of it while he copied the accounts in to his uncle’s large, imposing black book.
“What a shame then that your actions do not speak of your consideration. Perhaps you wish I had turned you away from my doorstep all those years ago?”
Mikhail lived in the future—in the world he hoped to find.
“Forgive me,” Gershom continued, “I had supposed I was doing you a service by saving you from the streets. But perhaps you would rather dwell among unfortunates, than among the accounts?” He said it slowly, then turned the question over; as if it were a coin that had left dirt upon his palm.
Mikhail did not answer.
After he had devoured all the holy books along his uncle’s shelves, he sought out literature, philosophy, history, engineering, mathematics, and poetry—his mind a sponge with limitless thirst fueled by a kind of formless urgency; an undirected aspiration toward his mythical, unnamed terminus. Only there could truly envision himself as free.
Mikhail was constantly scratching at the walls—his life with Gershom was painful and enclosed, and lived at a sonorous, stagnant pulse; like toads in winter. His existence ached, indeed it throbbed for something desired, something lingering beyond the horizon. He smothered these longings with work and more work. He anesthetized, but the ache cried out. Perhaps the cry was the voice of Gershom’s God, come to lift him from this enclosure? He feared he might never know.
“What is it that you write in those ledgers anyway boy?”
Gershom swooped down over his nephew clasping the ledger that sat upon his desk. The old man twisted his neck and peered again, holding the pages close to his face.
Mikhail noticed a strange expression on his uncle's face as he gazed deeply into his ledger.
He said nothing.
He merely stood above him, gawping.
Mikhail's notes were scattered upon the pages, covered them as if there had been an veritable explosion of thoughts. Little drawings and sketches, flecks of collected musings— he tried his hand at poetry, physics, and mathematics the way children play with toys.
His uncle picked it up, poured over the pages and quietly asked,
"Mikhail, how many terms of abstract mathematics have you taken?"
"One term, Sir."
“In whose hand is this calculation?”
“My own, Sir.”
Gershom’s eyes flicked wildly across the wrinkled pages. Mikhail did not know that what his uncle stared at was a rough version of a partial differential equation.
“You copied it from a textbook of course.”
“In Heaven’s name—who showed you to do this?"
"No one, Uncle. That is merely something I was in the middle of figuring out."
Gershom straightened himself upward.
He moved back toward his desk without another word about it.
“So boy, so. The Kogan account. Recite to me from the second quarter, with the calculations complete; and heed—the income is irregular. I’ll note the sequence here…”
Soon, Mikhail had all the tools and skills necessary for a life in the business—
a life of accounts
ranks and files,
Zeros, percentages and endless numbers.
Of stable comfort
and unwavering security.
But he possessed no knowledge of the wider world.
No knowledge of love.
Except what he could glean from his books.
What he did posses, were darts—
tiny missiles of instinctive perception
he would be occasionally thrust in Gershom’s direction.
Toward his heart.
In hopes of achieving a reaction—
one that might indicate any kind of feeling.
But to his devastation there was no heart.
And ideas you were not allowed to disagree with,